O’Neil, Parker & Williamson has its beginnings in Knoxville over eighty years ago. The firm originated in 1923 when Judge John Jennings, Jr. came from his practice in Campbell County to Knoxville and organized the firm of Jennings, Sexton & Wright, which evolved into the firm of Jennings, O’Neil & Jarvis.
Judge Jennings began his storied career when he was admitted to the bar in Tennessee 1903. He served as Chancellor in Campbell County and as a member of Congress for the Second Congressional District of Tennessee from 1939 to 1951. He also began a small library in 1904 that grew to thousands of volumes during his career. Many of those historic books are maintained by the firm today as a continuing legacy.
The wit and humor of Judge Jennings was illustrated with a story reported at the time of his death that drew on his experience as a Chancellor.
Yet while he used those volumes to prepare his thoroughly written pleading, he realized that most lawsuits are won in the dramatic framework of courtroom human relations.
“Judge Jennings” with his great fund of humor and anecdote, often participated directly in such drama, Clarence Templeton, the late Jellico lawyer and humorist, once recalled one instance when Mr. Jennings was on the bench.
Mr. Templeton had overstepped some sort of bounds and Judge Jennings had fined him $10 for contempt.
“But I haven’t any money,” Mr. Templeton pleaded. “What will I do?”
“Borrow from some of your friends,” Mr. Jennings suggested.
“Well, Your Honor is the best friend I’ve got. Will Your Honor lend me the ten?”
Thereupon Mr. Jennings turned to the clerk and master and directed: “Enter that fine and show by the record it is suspended. The state of Tennessee can better afford to lose $10 than I can.”
– Knoxville News-Sentinel, 2/28/56
Bill O’Neil began practicing in 1927 after graduating with honors from the University of Tennessee School of Law. Mr. O’Neil was highly respected as a thorough and diligent lawyer whose attention to detail was legendary.
Paul E. Parker joined the firm in 1947 and Ben W. Williamson, Jr. in 1950. During the ensuing years these lawyers, along with Bill O’Neil, developed reputations as fierce advocates in cases ranging from serious personal injury, to election contests, to wills and estates, to workers’ compensation, including trials involving diverse issues for individuals of all walks of life.
The three practiced together for several years as the senior partners. Ben Williamson remained in active practice after the retirement of Mr. O’Neil and Mr. Parker. He was noted for his masterful skills as a trial lawyer and as a mentor for the younger members of the firm. When his young associates would equivocate in preparing a case, Mr. Williamson’s passionate advice would often be “Do something even if it’s wrong!” The young lawyers quickly got the message. He actively practiced continuously until his passing in May of 2005.
The Honorable James Jarvis, II, son of Howard Jarvis, was a member of the firm from the early 1960s until 1970. Shortly thereafter Judge Jarvis served as a Law & Equity Court Judge for Blount County, Tennessee. In 1984 he was appointed by President Reagan as United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
The firm was located in downtown Knoxville for over eighty years. In 2011, O’Neil, Parker & Williamson relocated to its current address in the SunTrust Building at Gleason Drive and Morrell Road in West Knoxville. This convenient and accessible location marks a new chapter in the life of the firm. The firm is also better positioned to serve in the modern era of alternative dispute resolution. Its office space is particularly well suited for mediation and arbitration which have become significant factors in the firm’s practice.
The firm has also opened a satellite office in historic Dandridge, Tennessee. This will open opportunities for O’Neil, Parker & Williamson to serve clients in the surrounding counties of East Tennessee.
The mainstay of the practice of the firm has been civil litigation in the state and federal courts of Tennessee. The firm has a strong foundation, forged from a rich and active tradition of hard work, professionalism and dedication to the best interests of clients.